COA reverses termination of parental rights, finds DCS exhibited ‘troubling behavior’

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Wednesday a decision terminating a mother and father’s parental relationships with their son, writing that the Department of Child Services had exhibited an “extraordinarily troubling pattern of behavior.”

In May 2011, the Department of Child Services removed O.G. II from his parents’ home. Father O.G. admitted that both he and mother K.T. would test positive for marijuana, and K.T. admitted there was a history of domestic violence between her and O.G., so O.G. II was adjudicated a child in need of services.

DCS referred K.T. to domestic violence assessments and programs multiple times, and she completed a 26-week program. She also completed anger management classes at her own cost and saw success through home-based therapy sessions.

The boy was returned to his mother on a trial basis in August 2012 and remained in her care until May 2013. The juvenile court entered an order preventing O.G. from having contact with his child in February 2013. However, after O.G. went to K.T.’s home, kicked down her door and attacked her, the boy was removed and O.G. was arrested.

At the time of the termination hearing, K.T. was living with her mother and had a stable job, while O.G. was incarcerated through much of the CHINS case. However, he did complete anger management and parenting classes while in jail. During his incarceration, the assigned family case manager never contacted O.G., and the case manager further failed to comply with the juvenile court’s order that new service referrals be made for him.

DCS moved to terminate the parent-child relationship in May 2015, and the motion was granted in April 2016. Both parents appealed, with O.G. first arguing that his Department of Correction and Putnamville Correctional Facility records should not have been admitted as evidence because they constituted hearsay.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, with Judge John Baker writing that those records did not meet the business records exception because they did not qualify under Indiana Rules of Evidence 803(6) or 902(11). Further, Baker wrote that the testimony of the guardian ad litem, who testified regarding what O.G. II had told her he wanted, was inadmissible hearsay because there is no known statute excepting GALs from the hearsay rule.

O.G. and K.T. then argued that the evidence was not sufficient to support the termination of their parent-child relationship with their son. The Court of Appeals again agreed, with Baker writing that K.T. had made progress toward her goal of breaking free from her abusive relationship by participating in services and ending her relationship with O.G.

Further, Baker wrote that K.T.’s random drug screens were not problematic and she had taken the initiative to improve her mental health and stability, including finding a place to live and maintaining a job.

Similarly, despite the family case manager’s failure to contact O.G., he completed parenting and anger management classes while in prison and was able to find a job and a place to live, Baker said.

“There is an extraordinarily troubling pattern of behavior in this case,” the judge wrote. “The FCM made little to no effort to contact Father at the initiation of the CHINS case. And then, after DCS made its own internal decision that the case plan was to reunify Child with Mother, the FCM’s minimal efforts to engage Father ceased altogether.”

Thus, the unanimous panel held that the evidence did not support the termination of the parent-child relationship and the decision was remanded for further proceedings.

The case is In re the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of O.G. II (minor child) and K.T. (Mother) & O.G. (Father) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 49A02-1605-JT-1072.

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